Conservative Media and the Making of a Movement

Sunday, January 8, 2012: 9:10 AM
Chicago Ballroom VII (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Nicole R. Hemmer, United States Studies Center, University of Sydney
In the mid-1950s, conservative commentators with deep-pocketed sponsors began founding media outlets to disseminate and popularize their political ideas. They aimed their work at people across the nation who thought the U.S. was too secular, too liberal, too soft-on-communism, seeking to bring them together under a revived political label: conservatism. Their influence went beyond their message, however. The act of consuming ideological media became a formative part of being conservative in America. And as those on the right began turning to conservative media figures as movement leaders, these media figures responded by founding organizations and encouraging political activism that would, in time, reshape American politics.

This paper examines how Clarence Manion, a right-wing commentator from 1954 to 1979, used his media outlets to form a national community of conservative activists and voters. At its height, the Manion Forum radio program could be heard across the nation, reaching libertarians in the Sunbelt, corporate conservatives in the Northeast, segregationists in the South, and traditionalists in the Midwest. In appealing to this national audience, Manion, like others in conservative media, forged a national conservative identity out of these disparate regional traits. Listeners responded by appealing to Manion as a political leader, asking him for advice on schools, organizations, politicians, and finally, urging him to organize on their behalf. This paper proposes that as both media figures and organizers, Manion and his cohort did more than spread the conservative message: they converted right-leaning Americans into modern conservative audiences and activists.